With the first phase of construction nearly complete, a wetland park that has been on Columbia County drawing boards for more than a year will be opening soon.
Tony Ammar, the general contractor for Reed Creek Wetland Interpretive Park, wades through the mud as he works on the boardwalk.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Construction of Reed Creek Wetland Interpretive Park began in August on the 15.4-acre site across from Forest Creek subdivision off Furys Ferry Road.
It was scheduled to be finished by the end of this month, but rain slowed the contractor, said Barry Smith, the county's director of community and leisure services.
"But Phase I should be completed within the next 20 days," Smith said.
Phase I includes a U-shape boardwalk with an overlook, a paved parking lot, sidewalks and landscape enhancements.
Smith said myriad smaller wetland plant material has been installed, and several wetland tree varieties were planted on the site, including bald cypress, pond cypress, river birch and black gum trees. Some of those plants were recently damaged by vandals, and the Sheriff's Office is investigating.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has contributed $75,000 to the $374,000 Phase I project. The remaining funds came from the county's 2001-05 special purpose local option sales tax.
The county has hired the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy as a consultant for the wetland restoration aspect of the park, but Smith said he hopes for a longer relationship with the academy. If negotiations between the county and the academy officials are successful, the academy could conduct educational programs at the park similar to the programs at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park.
"We're anxious to partner with them," Smith said.
The possible partnership would provide the academy the chance to create an educational nature park similar to Phinizy Swamp in Columbia County, said Jackie Maryak, the executive vice president of the academy.
"We are all about innovative science programs and interesting opportunities and restoring degraded natural resources or degraded areas as we have done so well at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park," Maryak said. " ... It (the Reed Creek Park project) creates some very unique and interesting opportunities for us to create some very innovative science programs."
Smith said the $1.2 million park's second phase includes extending the boardwalk and more landscaping, wetland plant material and an educational classroom building in hopes that the partnership with the academy materializes.
DNR already has committed $100,000 to the second phase, which will total $826,000. The remaining funds are slated to come from the county's sales tax, Smith said. Construction on Phase II will begin later this year and might be finished by next summer.
In February, a landowner donated an additional 35 acres for the park. The third phase, paid for by the 2006-10 special purpose sales tax, will extend the boardwalk across Reed Creek to the new property, add trails to it and possibly construct a small amphitheater. The trails will connect to Blue Ridge Elementary School.
Smith said he hopes to get area schools involved in the park through field trips, and he is looking for park sponsors and stewards. The stewards, interest groups, school groups or any others interested are needed to help keep the park clean.
For more information on the park's progress or to volunteer or contribute, e-mail Stephanie Thomas-Rees at email@example.com.
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